Open Access Research

Nanofibers and nanoparticles from the insect-capturing adhesive of the Sundew (Drosera) for cell attachment

Mingjun Zhang1*, Scott C Lenaghan1, Lijin Xia1, Lixin Dong2, Wei He13, William R Henson1 and Xudong Fan4

  • * Corresponding author: Mingjun Zhang

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA

2 Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA

3 Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA

4 Advanced Microscopy Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA

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Journal of Nanobiotechnology 2010, 8:20  doi:10.1186/1477-3155-8-20

Published: 18 August 2010



The search for naturally occurring nanocomposites with diverse properties for tissue engineering has been a major interest for biomaterial research. In this study, we investigated a nanofiber and nanoparticle based nanocomposite secreted from an insect-capturing plant, the Sundew, for cell attachment. The adhesive nanocomposite has demonstrated high biocompatibility and is ready to be used with minimal preparation.


Atomic force microscopy (AFM) conducted on the adhesive from three species of Sundew found that a network of nanofibers and nanoparticles with various sizes existed independent of the coated surface. AFM and light microscopy confirmed that the pattern of nanofibers corresponded to Alcian Blue staining for polysaccharide. Transmission electron microscopy identified a low abundance of nanoparticles in different pattern form AFM observations. In addition, energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy revealed the presence of Ca, Mg, and Cl, common components of biological salts. Study of the material properties of the adhesive yielded high viscoelasticity from the liquid adhesive, with reduced elasticity observed in the dried adhesive. The ability of PC12 neuron-like cells to attach and grow on the network of nanofibers created from the dried adhesive demonstrated the potential of this network to be used in tissue engineering, and other biomedical applications.


This discovery demonstrates how a naturally occurring nanofiber and nanoparticle based nanocomposite from the adhesive of Sundew can be used for tissue engineering, and opens the possibility for further examination of natural plant adhesives for biomedical applications.